Hello and welcome to the future of Sputnik’s recently rebooted, charm offending, hernia cleansing, fool hunting, wokeshopping mania avenue for the brave and brainless. Staff Wars is back! This is where we stick members of the Staff team against the wall and interview them within an inch of their lives. Steel yourself as impossible questions are posed and the Staffers you’d never had the courage to approach before surpass your wildest expectations.
For this interview, we turn to Olympus new blood and bring you an exclusive tell-all from none other than MarsKid. Who is MarsKid? Where did he come from (MARS, idiot!)? What does he bring? How much does he owe you and how much is he owed? What happens if you make it to the final line of any of his reviews? What the sour octopus is post-metalcore? YIKES let’s grill the boy!
Hi Mars! Of all our new crop of staffers, I think you’re the one whose taste and coverage can most easily be summed up as a concrete Niche (although it’s probably inevitable that I’d draw that conclusion after all the intensive profiling I threw at your ratings and reactions for last year’s Build-an-Album competition) – so go on! Sum it up. Preferences and proclivities here please, both practised and conceptual:
So there’s this thing called post-metalcore, not sure if you’ve heard of it but it’s kinda a big deal, y’know. Basically, it asks the all-important question of “What if metalcore could FEEL” although not in the Counterparts “lol I’m gonna die” manner of hackneyed breakdowns. It’s all about the atmosphere, the vibes, the immense sense of scale, and it might not exist but a man can dream!
Hmm but in all seriousness. What do I look for in music? I think overall I am a man of some measure of action, which is probably why drone and ambient tend to rapidly lose me. I’m certainly in for whatever kind of long ride an album can offer–some of my favourite (Mars note: this filthy Bri’ish document accepts only ‘favourite’ and not ‘favorite,’ thought we fought a war over this shit smh) works definitely stretch their runtimes. But at a certain point, I want that investment to GO somewhere and DO something, or at least have an engaging enough base premise that it can carry a tune. I’ve definitely wondered if it’s a patience issue, but when I carve out chunks of my day for music and music alone, I’ve got attention to spare. It just ain’t my cuppa.
Metal music generally brings me that heavy, gritty action, and I’m a sucker for how overdramatic it can get. Bring me all the cheese! Which is likewise why I lean towards the worlds of hardcore and screamo frequently, although I wouldn’t say those possess the same inherent zaniness; they tend to relate more to my emotions and past experiences. Which I should also note: I can be an emotional listener. I try like any good reviewer to pluck myself out of an experience so as to not go over the skis, but hell, it happens to the best of us.
Prove your populist Contributor credentials! What do Sputnik users want…
Uhm functioning charts, more genre tags, website security, uhhh I don’t think the digs function is fixed yet?? We probably need that at some point. Also, judging by the users’ list, they want metal, most of it good but some of it suspect, which is BIG LOVE but also we probably could’ve done with a little diversity. Where the absolute fuck was Billy Woods?? Yes I’m part of the problem, but Persefone made it so we take the wins where we get them.
…and what do they deserve?
If we go by history, nothing apparently.
Nah users deserve a lot. This is an incredibly dedicated community that, despite inhabiting the outdated ‘forum’ type of website that has now fallen by the wayside, never seems to quit or go away. There’s a beautiful sense of community around here, and I’d contend that it’s only gotten stronger.
Everyone that voted for Wonder Years, we’ll uh, stare at ‘em awkwardly or something.
Lots of awkward staring to be done within the staff ranks then, unfortunately. Anyhow, prove your newly-imparted professional credentials! Award each of these genres a score from 0 to 5 for authenticity, with brief reasoning! Which are legitimate, which are bogus?
Grunge: Not experienced enough in this, but Alice in Chains is considered grunge so I have to imagine they carry this hard. MTV Unplugged “Down in a Hole” is haunting. Let’s go with a 3, very top-heavy genre for the most part.
Djent: not real/5
Glitch pop: Uhm would this be Yeule? That was a good album, very atmospheric. I’m feeling a light 3, thanks for watching did you like it did you hate it what would you rate it you’re the best
Swancore: Initially promising scene made irrelevant by rampant egos, problematic personalities receiving zero consequences (Jonny was doing it before Tilian, let’s not forget y’all), and an incestuous approach to new bands/projects. Basically ensured no new ideas came in. Hail the Sun is the last torchbearer, they’ll flame out soon enough if they don’t adapt. Feeling a 2 / 5, and that 2 is carried hardcore by prime ALLB.
Post-minimalism: Does this mean it is no longer minimal? Does it rope back to maximum? Is it Maximum the Hormone? Biggly/5
Art pop: *checks top art pop albums of 2022 on RYM* I’m not sure if my understanding has been enhanced or further demolished, but saw some albums I enjoyed or otherwise didn’t hate, sounds like a 2.5/5.
Digital hardcore: buy a guitar u computer nerd lmao/5
Shibuya kei: Oh golly back to the charts we go… Uhh can I plead the 5th?
Permanent wave: I’m assuming this is The Ocean, as the ocean has many waves and the waves keep coming and don’t stop coming. The Ocean is a 5/5 band.
Maxicore: I looked this up and saw a protein supplement thing, what are you selling me???
Heavygaze: This word sounds like a catch-all for Deft-core, which is perhaps one of the more painfully immobile sub-sub-genres and it’s just alt. metal that does gazey stuff. No Chongos Bongos, no Deftcore. It’s a wash/5.
Cuddlecore: Sounds incredibly problematic. I am seeing band names like Bunnygrunt and Shonen Knife. Feel like that’s an easy 0/5.
Nice, and further on the note of dubious credibility, is ajcollins15, as seen on Sputnik’s Morning Show, a friend or foe?
AHH is he watching? Because I swear I find him in the soundoffs for albums from all walks of life. The man’s certainly dedicated and I’m 90% sure he is a Sputnik cyborg, but comparatively a low-risk threat and ultimately delivers some entertaining little blurbs. I’d let him into my home for a cup of coffee and a conversation about the intricacies of atmospheric sludge metal.
Now that all the peripheral matters are out of the way, let’s cut that cake: you spent four years as a Contrib, which, though it’s in many ways the best and most exciting site position, can carry a relatively underdiscussed enormity of Nebulous Things That You Have To Prove To Everyone.
That was my experience anyway – those amazing team opportunities always came with an uphill struggle to telegraph you were going places to a bunch of people and criteria lurking somewhere overhead. Big topic! To what extent would you identify with that perspective?
Yeah, part of that resonates with me. I definitely felt pressure/put pressure on myself to grind, which was both beneficial and harmful–beneficial because I believe it pushed me to be a better writer and constantly improve myself, but harmful to the extent that my love of music was often questioned. I’d slog through new releases, spend days, weeks, or even months trying to conjure inspiration, ultimately feeling empty and as if I didn’t really care for the art anymore; it was just another job to clock in and clock out of. I’ve since been able to change my perspective quite a bit, but I certainly had a relatively deep desire to prove myself.
Being Staff comes with a range of alternative outlets to the good ol’ review slog – we’re on the blog! Exciting!
You’ve already authored a decent chunk of blog content and, I imagine, have dreams and schemes of things-to-be! What’s the gameplan and what comes first?
I’ve always wanted to try and make another series! But the idea hasn’t quite materialised yet. I’ve kicked around doing a pieceregarding the rise and death of Swancore since that seems rather topical nowadays, but I don’t know if I’m sold on it yet. Could be fun!
The two things I really want to bring to the table are tier list rankings, because I think they could get a lot of community engagement involved and prompt some entertaining discussion (not unlike KILL or KEEP!) and I really, really want to rekindle the Sputcast. I feel like Sputnik’s social media outreach in general could use a boost, especially with regards to platforms like Instagram or TikTok (I’m a grandpa though, I only have an Instagram account and don’t know anything about Tikking on the Tok).
Making something like Build-an-Album or other similar contents reoccurring site features could also be a great way to boost activity and interest.
What should the next album on KILL or KEEP be?
I feel like Hot Fuss might not be a bad idea. There’s been a lot of debate over the years regarding the second half versus the first half, what with the latter being front loaded with the group’s most iconic hits. Would be interesting to see how that plays out, or even if some of those aforementioned singles end up on the chopping block.
Not sure if Modest Mouse has wound up on a KILL or KEEP feature yet, but you could toss that up. I might be very unreliable considering my fanboyism lol.
Oh nice, good shouts. Hot Fuss has big potential for an off-topic quickie, and Long Drive or Moon & Antarctica are prime KILL or KEEP territory. I am now going to spam quotations (fake and real) for you to disagree with:
“The best writers are always the best listeners.”
In a musical context: not necessarily. Some of the most insightful, engaged listeners I know do not write, and there are plenty of amazing writers that will fluff up an LP until it has no hope of ever reaching an audience’s provided expectations; it feels as though something was picked up that isn’t really there,
In a real life context: oh golly, depends. Writers can be very “fuck you, got mine,” or incredibly empathetic, sincere individuals. Very much depends. I’ve known many creators that use writing to escape or express themselves in a manner they otherwise couldn’t, which often leads to that compassionate sort of perspective; they’ve encountered darkness in their personal lives, they know how it feels, so they won’t leave you stranded.
“Patience is acknowledging that your time is too precious to put at the mercy of your own whims.”
Not sure if I fully grasp what this quote is aiming for. Does it imply that wasting time/waiting around for too long means the mind is rendered uninterested and wandering, therefore leaving it susceptible to impulsive behaviour? I mean, my impulsivity doesn’t need much time to operate, I got that covered any moment of the day lol
I suppose in a music sense, if it means not to waste time on an album that isn’t clicking, then I can sympathise to an extent. I’ve sat through some truly horrific experiences and suppressed my urge to skip when, in all reality, nothing that could have changed my mind was up ahead. When that new Shinedown album brought in the forced strings to be like THIS IS EPIC AND SAD AND OH NO AMERICA BURNING!? I was definitely questioning my resolve. But 9/10 times, I stick it through; I feel like it’s just fair. And if it’s like, an Attila album, you gotta see how they fuck it up.
As for like, not wasting time with genres you dislike, I’m all for it. That might be controversial, but if someone has tried something long enough, deep cuts included, and they’re still rejecting it, then it’s probably time to shelve it and move along. If we all were as universally well-listened and category defying as we’d like to be, there’d be a whole lot more field noise records on the front page!
“90% of music criticism’s value is derived from its scope as a promotional tool.”
This can seem valid at points. A cursory glance at big-name metal publications reveals how little criticism is actually dealt; it’s often a glowing review meant to prop up the album as an untouchable magnum opus of [insert genre here]. They’ll naturally take potshots at bands like Nickelback since the zeitgeist has determined they’re a punching bag and nothing more, but if a group like Parkway Drive stumbles into that territory, it’s praise out the ass. All other genres can be very similar in that regard; reviewers will reward all except those that are ‘safe’ to tear down.
Music is, to me, the highest of all human arts, and it is the expression of our souls in its purest form. Discussing that–how it clicks, what works, what doesn’t, okay go deeper and explain and analyse that sh*t–not only keeps artists honest (you can weed out bad-faith artists or otherwise poor attempts, among other things), but it can often reveal so much about who we are as people. There have been multiple times a review puts to words a thought I couldn’t properly compose, and it immediately offers a degree of clarity regarding a given record. Music can mean a LOT; as soon as you ask that “why?” question, you can be on a journey to discovering a key artistic facet of yourself. Maybe that’s just my personal experience, but that’s my viewpoint.
And, much like solving a puzzle, criticism is FUN! It’s entertaining to engage with media and dissect it and compile thoughts, asking how I feel, figuring out what’s making me enjoy or dislike something, etc. I think there are a lot more benefits to critique that I haven’t touched on, but that’s what immediately jumps out to me.
“All farewells are sudden.”
Ouch, gonna cut through the BS with a personal thing like that? Is this a Trophy Scars album?
In my experience… huh, okay, this will suck to answer. In my experience, this is true. Someone close to you can vanish without warning, without reasoning, on a whim due to a variety of circumstances. There’s no predicting if/when you’ll lose someone–you will eventually, which is a bit of a morbid thought, but ultimately one grounded in reality; people go. Sometimes you get a goodbye, sometimes it’s sudden, sometimes–fuck me, this sucks–they are hurt, lost, and
Okay let’s try this again.
I’ve lost a lot of people in my life. Part of it has been due to my immaturity as I’ve grown up, attempting to find myself and overcome my mental health issues. Part of it has been random, it just happened. Part of it has been death. Part of it has been me trying to escape emotional abuse and manipulation. Part of it has been my depression. And so on. In every instance, there was no lead-up to the occurrence, no manner through which I could achieve closure–which in of itself is a bit of a loaded, Hollywood-esque concept. That shit used to burn me up.
Let me pivot this from the dark turn it has taken: farewells are sudden. The relationships we keep between those close to us are not guaranteed. I’d implore anyone reading this who at all feels this way or has at all experienced this to cherish those that they have. Reach out to them; if you haven’t said hi to someone in a month or so, catch up. Ask how someone’s doing and mean it, and listen whether it’s been a good few days or a bad few days for them. Be THERE in your life, be ACTIVE in your life. Blossom into who you can become and don’t let yourself get burned by repeated endings. Focus on new beginnings or the real ones that have stuck around. That’s where the beauty lies.
“Metalcore is dead.”
You’re kicking up the hornet’s nest for this one!
I feel like I deconstructed this thoroughly in my Post-Metalcore series. The Cliffnotes(™) version: metalcore evolved, in some ways good and in some ways bad, which left fans of the old-school sound disenfranchised and feeling left out. People would see acts like Asking Alexandria on the main stage at a festival and feel as though the genre had disappeared up its own ass. Fair, but rather short-sighted.
It’s worth noting that, once its peak cultural and commercial relevance hit, there was only so much of the pie to go around–hence why so many acts of the early to mid-2000s were short-lived and couldn’t keep it going. Hell, even tenured acts like Comity never broke through despite surviving for a pretty long period of time. I can agree the scene is less active than it was then, and the break-ups of multiple acts definitely soured things, but inspiration is still readily flowing.
I also think calling a genre “dead” is a pretty bold claim. You mean to tell me the WHOLE THING has gone up in smoke?! I prefer “stagnation”: the genre is still going, sometimes with plenty of active artists, but it’s not really going anywhere. Post-rock is the epitome of that, currently.
Apologies for taking such a gameshow approach to this interview, but I am having too much fun to stop.
FINAL BOSS: surprise self-expression workshop!
You’re known for your expansive writing style and highly substantive deep-dives, so I’m gonna flip the table and ask you to summarise the entirety of the following reviews in one sentence of no more than 20 words (extra handicap: no sub-clauses). Let’s go:
No Note – if this is the future then I’m in the dark
Random assembly of Baltimore lads thrash about in a Converge and Gospel manner because they are big sad.
Post-hardcore-tinged punk outfit rages against the U.K. ‘s and world’s negligence on matters that jeopardise women’s safety and rights.
Fine Before You Came – Frome Complesse
Very sleepy and potentially drunk Italians snooze through sadboi acoustic nothingsongs.
Normally amazing German trio stumbles into buttrock and become the butts themselves.
Nice shit, now let’s look a little more closely at revs/writing. Full disclosure I’ve already set these next two questions for dedex, but I like them and think you/everyone should have a crack: first, what is good writing and how does yours fulfil that criteria?
Beyond technical competency and eliminating errors, good writing, for me, is the kind that can entirely encompass what an album’s about or at least offer a composite impression of what the record can offer. This can be done in a variety of ways–dissecting arrangements, critiquing the playing itself, the stylistic choices, and so on. I should be able to check into a review, give it a good read, and have a strong understanding of what I’m in for when I press that magical little play button. The more descriptive the merrier; if something is “average,” don’t just say it, explain why! If something is heavy, neat, is that just the band’s only trick or does their songwriting assist them? Ask important questions, give big answers, although don’t get too bogged down in outlining EVERYTHING (which is certainly a trap I’ve fallen into before, as much as I love writing a long review!) Being concise matters the most; identify any fat and trim that shit, or find a way to integrate it better. This is something a good round of editing can accomplish as well as proofreading. Get yourself some proofreading buddies!
I also think it’s important to have a strong voice. Sometimes, reviews become so concentrated on sort of an “a is a thing, so is b” or “x is cool because y,” and it feels a bit detached/robotic. That’s not to say a reviewer needs to crack jokes every line, but I do believe it does wonders for overall writing quality and keeping a reader engaged. A big help for that is learning the art of a good hook; figure out how to really snag someone in with a killer opening line/premise, and you’re golden. It’s something I’ve gotten to learn through practice, practice, and practice.
And hmm, I’m generally awful at talking myself up lol. I’m confident that, especially in certain genres, I can break down an album’s multiple facets and condense them into a handful of relevant points. When something’s working or something’s broken, I’m able to gather those thoughts and express them accurately. And as difficult as it can be on occasion, I have good faith in my ability to nail an opening paragraph. As far as I can tell from feedback I’ve received, my reviews are undeniably MINE, so I’m in possession of a voice, which is neat!
I feel like overall I’ve taken a much more loose approach to reviewing lately, although not in a manner through which the quality suffers or I get lazy with editing; I just don’t take myself too seriously or immerse myself totally in THE GRIND. I let the thoughts flow, I have fun with it, and the end product tends to satisfy me more than usual.
With that in mind, are there any reviews/other writings that you’re particularly proud of?
In the realm of positive reviews, I feel like the Dawnwalker review really come out nicely. It has a delicate atmosphere that I wanted to capture, and I toyed around with a few different ways to frame it. It was entertaining to puzzle it together, and it allowed me to do a bit more of an emotional/personal review. I don’t like to do those too often, but they’re great ways to delve into an album’s emotional payoffs and offer a human dimension to things.
The review I spent the most time on this year (Mars note: fuck it’s February of 2023 already, disregard THIS YEAR) was likely the Pianos Become the Teeth one, so I’m particularly fond of it. Had a lot of thoughts concerning its faults, of which there were many, and I really deconstructed the whole thing into some clear points. Definitely sucked to have to tear into it with such negativity, but man, it was a complete dud. Emo bands the world over have executed impeccable stylistic shifts; that one ain’t it, chief.
…and any where you might have gone about things a little differently?
I ultimately stand by the verdict of most, if not all of my reviews. But I certainly could have gone about some differently or otherwise refrained from writing. The Jeromes Dream one was definitely kind of a knee-jerk reaction sort of piece; I checked it out on bandcamp, had an immediately negative experience, and the review started bubbling from there. I didn’t put nearly enough research or general forethought into the thing, which made it seem like, well, a knee-jerk reaction. Was controversial at the time and, if I step back, I can comprehend why; it wasn’t a smart move to lash out and leap without looking.
The Unprocessed review was made with some pretty poor intentions in mind. The album was average for all the reasons I described and missed potential incarnate, but I went into that writing process wanting to stir shit up and cause a ruckus–which I did, and it damaged a long-term friendship and only served to seemingly prove a petty point to myself. Given the chance, I don’t think I’d avoid the review, but the entire opening premise would be scrapped.
Cool. Second one-size-fits-all question: what does and doesn’t Staff coverage need more of?
I think we need more interviews! These can be for any genre; I feel like the site has been able to get some great artists to offer their insight, and it can help drive traffic here and get more eyeballs looking and such.
In terms of specifics, the real MEAT, I’d love to see some more hip-hop coverage hit the front page. Rowan does a wonderful job hitting a good chunk of the highlights, but there aren’t too many other reviewers dedicated to it from my experience. Ideally, I’d like to help out in that regard, although my hip-hop knowledge is still kind of in its infancy so to speak lol. More underground artists in general, regardless of musical category. Do we really need to talk about In Flames falling on their face again? Yes, it’s funny, but come on now.
Also, if I have to hear another bargain-bin death metal album that somehow gets a 3.8+ average and BNM, I will scream. (which is rich coming from me with regards to metalcore and stuff but at least metalcore can be FUN and not self-serious grrrr shit, y’know what I mean?)
Amen to that last part, yuck! Mean penultimate question! What would you do with your time if writing was abruptly denied from you, uh, forever?
If this includes poetry and stories and stuff? Golly, that is a thoroughly depressing reality to consider. I suppose I’d invest more time into my drawing and make a lot more pieces. I’d probably be playing video games more too. Definitely going to be clocking in even more hours into Minecraft building shit lol, have to stay creative somehow.
And finally, could I get some pithy comments on the following:
David Bowie – “Life on Mars?”
Yeah I grew up on Mars, not sure if Bowie should be acting as if he knows his shit, us extraterrestrials can tell our own stories thank you.
Feel like there are many other reasons to dislike Black Midi than talking social status, especially when the site so recently crowned Brandon Flowers the voice of small-town America. That being said, I’m not a fan of any kind of institution that inherently plays favourites and hurts underground success. (which is my impression of it at least)
he can Freddie my Mercury ayo ayo ayo
Very kind soul with a slick-as-fuck beard and a good eye for indie/country/alt gems.
Remember this from Build-an-Album I think? Worth checking again for when I (eventually) delve into the world of breaks/breakbeat.
My Bloody Valentine
If your valentine is bloody, something has likely gone very wrong.
I know nothing about the IT Crowd except the “Well you know they always try to walk it in!” thing that everyone repeats online. I suspect it is funny! But I also don’t really watch TV so I’ll just… suspect, I suppose.
You go girl! Get that bag and stick it to those rich people and spend money and shit and live life to the max woop! The get-arrested part, probably not a smart plan.
Any final comments for us today?
MarsKid, thank you!
Thank you for your readership! Please stay tuned for our next instalment, coming soon!
Previously on Staff Wars:
but other than that good interview
Johnny if you do a Modest Mouse kill or keep and don't invite me I will cry and be sad and make you feel guilty
Mars was the most deserving promoted staffer, a real pleasure to see that finally happen
Also he's a very handsome young man who writes nice poems and he once saved my life.
1. Watch Garth Marenghiâ€™s Darkplace which is the best comedy ever
2. Watch early Might Boosh for great surreal madness
3. Toast of London is also really good if you like the above
4. Matt Berry is also a legit musician with many prog/folk type albums and even appeared on Josh Hommeâ€™s desert sessions
I love Matt Berry and that wasnâ€™t the real take away I should have had from a skim read sorry
Mars will make a top staffer, we are lucky to have him!
F I L M
â€˜The reason vampires enjoy virgins is simple really. Think about a delicious sandwich. Think if youâ€™re really hungry and you want to eat that sandwich. Now donâ€™t you think youâ€™d enjoy eating that sandwich much more knowing that nobody fucked it?â€™